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Don’t drink and dive, salt water isn’t a good mixer


Tony Weaver is a freelance photo-journalist, environment writer, columnist and editor.

Treat the sea with deep respect. It is a wonderful friend, but a powerful and terrifying foe when its mood changes.

First published in Die Burger

It’s that time of year when those of us who live at the coast brace ourselves for (but also welcome) the mass influx of tourists from our inland provinces.

At the risk of sounding patronising, here are a few pointers to surviving our two main attractions, the oceans and the mountains. The oceans first.

Treat the sea with deep respect. It is a wonderful friend, but a powerful and terrifying foe when its mood changes.

In the Western Cape, take a drive on the wonderful Clarence Drive that snakes its way from Gordons Bay to Rooi Els. There are crosses dotted along the edge of False Bay. They mark where anglers were swept from the rocks and drowned.

As a child, my father would quietly talk to us when we were fishing: “Never turn your back on the sea, never stand on a wet rock, and always plan your escape.”

False Bay’s eastern shores throw up some fearsome freak waves that seem to come from nowhere: at the mouth of False Bay there’s a submerged reef, Rocky Bank, and when the swell picks up, it focuses the waves on the rocky shore between the Steenbras River Mouth and Rooi Els.

On the beaches, you’ll see surfers jumping in and paddling out with no apparent effort. Avoid those spots like the plague. That’s where the rip currents are: as surfers, rips are our friends, and we ride them like a conveyor belt out to the back line. But they are the enemy of those who don’t understand how dangerous they are – they can kill.

If you get caught in a rip current – and they’re much stronger during spring tides – don’t fight it. Let it take you until it spits you out, then swim sideways as far as you can before swimming back to shore. Fighting is futile – there’s a reason for the saying, “swimming against the tide”.

And much as it’s lekker to have a dop on the beach, don’t go swimming when you’re pissed – you will get little sympathy from your rescuers, if they make it in time.

Like the oceans, the mountains are fickle bastards. Their mood can change in minutes. And in Cape Town, there’s this bloody great big rock right in the middle of the city. It is tempting to just head up there without a second thought.

Don’t. Table Mountain is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world.

Never hike alone, wear boots or running shoes, not sandals, wear sunblock, a hat, and carry a backpack with plenty of water, food, a jersey, and a rain jacket (no matter how fine the day). Leave jewellery and cash behind, carry a cheap cellphone with emergency numbers loaded, and always let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to be back. And again, don’t climb and drink alcohol – they don’t mix.

Be safe, have a great holiday, and please survive. We want you back next year. DM

Tony Weaver is the author, with Andrew Ingram, of Into A Raging Sea Great South African Rescues; published in Afrikaans as Op ‘n Stormsee – Ware verhale van Suid-Afrikaanse seereddings (Jonathan Ball)


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